Two major upcoming events in Abu Dhabi will attract increased General Aviation (GA) activity and put additional pressure on GA infrastructure. The Abu Dhabi Air Expo takes place February 25-27 at Bateen (OMAD), and the Abu Dhabi Yacht Show follows right on its heels March 1-3. The Air Expo will have the greater impact on GA, while the Yacht Show will boost traffic to the region but will not shut down any airports.
If you are operating into Abu Dhabi during this time, the following is an overview of what you need to know:
1. Abu Dhabi Air Expo
The Abu Dhabi Air Expo is one of the largest aviation static displays in the Middle East. OMAD, a joint use civil/military airfield, hosts the static displays and will shut down to transient operations for the duration of the expo. The only aircraft permitted into OMAD will be aircraft taking part in the static displays. Overnight aircraft parking should not be an issue, other than at OMAD, during these two events.
2. Primary airports for Air Expo
Abu Dhabi Intl (OMAA) and Al Ain Intl (OMAL) are primary airport options for GA traveling to the Air Expo. Other airports to consider are Al Maktoum Intl (OMDW), a drive of about an hour and a half from Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah (OMSJ), an approximately -hour drive. Note that Dubai Intl (OMDB) has become increasingly difficult for GA access due to heavy scheduled airline traffic.
3. Primary airports for Yacht Show
OMAD will re-open to GA following the Air Expo. Attendees of the Yacht Show will have access to OMAD, OMAA, and OMAL. OMAA is the closest airport to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Yacht Show venue – at a drive of only about 10 minutes.
4. Airport status and hours
All of the above are 24-hour Airports of Entry. Airport slots and Prior Permission Required are not needed at any of these locations. Full GA support is available, and credit for all services can be set up with advance notification.
5. Permit requirements
Permits are needed for all private non-revenue and charter (non-scheduled commercial) operations to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The process for private non-revenue and charter permits is essentially the same. Note that each Emirate (the UAE has seven Emirates) has different requirements in processing landing permits. Dubai, for example, does not need any documentation in advance but does require operators to have all aircraft/crew documentation onboard on arrival. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, requires all relevant documentation – including certificates of airworthiness and registration and radio license – be forwarded in advance with the landing permit request. For permit requests to either Emirate, it’s necessary to provide the name of the lead passenger.
6. Permit lead times
Official lead time for landing permits, for either Abu Dhabi or Dubai, is four business days. The permit process is usually quicker if all required information is submitted together. The work week in the UAE is Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. Urgent permit requests are often accommodated on weekends, but this is at the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA’s) discretion. For short-notice permits, it’s best to advise the purpose of the flight to enable CAA to better understand the urgency of your request.
7. Permit revisions
UAE landing permits are valid for the Zulu day. A permit confirmation is provided, and this must be placed in remarks section 18 of the International Civil Aviation Organization flight plan. Permit revisions are necessary if there are changes to operating date, routing, crew, passengers, and/or length of stay.
8. Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine clearance
At most airports in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, you’ll clear customs and immigration at the terminal. Onboard Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine (CIQ) clearance may be requested, but it’s up to local customs/immigration to determine whether to approve the request or not. Terminal CIQ clearance for GA is normally via a separate line and will be coordinated by the ground handler. For arrival/departure paperwork, your ground handler will fill out all required information, as long as it’s been submitted in advance. Be mindful that visas may be necessary for crew or passengers, depending upon nationality. Always confirm visa requirements in advance, as visas may not be obtainable on arrival.
9. Fuel uplifts
Fuel uplifts are seldom an issue at UAE airports, but it’s recommended that fuel releases be forwarded in advance to avoid any delays on arrival or day of departure. While aviation fuel cards are generally accepted in the UAE, a fuel release is always an important backup document in case any issues arise. Many operators, when traveling to the UAE, choose to uplift fuel on arrival to avoid the possibility of departure delays.
10. Other airport considerations
Hangar accommodation is seldom available, or possible, for transient GA operations. Many excellent in-flight catering options – including in-flight caterers and local restaurants/hotels – are available in this region.
11. Hotel accommodations
Hotels in the Abu Dhabi area will be in high demand during these two events – particularly for the Air Expo. During this time, crew room rates will be higher than normal and may involve extended cancellation policies. Abu Dhabi has an excellent selection of 4- and 5-star crew hotel options, including large international hotel chains. In order to secure preferred or specific hotels, it’s best to make accommodation requests well in advance of day of operation. Keep in mind that hotels are more expensive than average in this part of the world. Four-star accommodations typically run 300 USD or more per night and may be higher during large event periods.
12. Local transport options
Arranging local transport within Abu Dhabi and the UAE should be a part of your pre-trip checklist. Pre-paid transport (car with driver) and rental vehicles are recommended options, but local taxis should be avoided due to language barriers.
13. Overnight considerations
Crews spending time in Abu Dhabi have much to look forward to. Take the opportunity to tour the local area – from the Grand Mosque to the shopping malls and historic parts of town. The UAE experiences a constant flow of tourism throughout the year, and there are great restaurants and shops to try. It’s important in this part of the world, however, to dress and act conservatively. Best practice would be to review and understand local cultural norms prior to traveling to the Middle East.
If you’re planning to attend either the Abu Dhabi Air Expo or the Yacht Show, it’s best to begin the planning process, and arrangement of services/landing permits, as soon as schedule is known. This will help ensure the best aircraft parking options, as well as success in obtaining preferred hotel accommodations.
If you have any questions about this article or operations to the Middle East, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Keith Foreman
With more than two decades of experience at Universal and even more as an air traffic controller in the United States Air Force, Master Trip Owner Keith Foreman has extensive experience in business aviation operations. Keith, who has facilitated more than 19,000 trip legs, is also an expert on the Middle East, having lived in the region for several years. Keith’s reputation and knowledge have earned the praise of industry associations such as the National Business Aviation Association, where he is regularly asked to give presentations on regional operational issues in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Keith, who has an associate’s degree in aeronautical science, is also frequently interviewed in a variety of industry publications both domestically and internationally. Keith can be reached at email@example.com.
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